THEE OH SEES
Thee Oh Sees do not hesitate when it comes to releasing records. A Weird Exits slides into a back catalogue to the early 2000’s, and now with this new release we’re up to number 17 – an impressive feat if nothing else. Along the way, many different incarnations of the band have taken shape; be it different takes on the band name itself or the several line-up changes. Whilst the music itself has shifted through countless amounts of influences with every new release; as Thee Oh Sees attempt to fuse together an array of genres to make a sound that by now, only Thee Oh Sees can seem to make.
At this point in their career, you would have thought that they’d have expended every avenue of Garage Rock, Punk, Psychedelia and 60’s pop. But A Weird Exits is an evolution on previous efforts, maintaining the overall high octane spirit you would usually associate with them, but pushing it one step further with the inclusion of two drummers with a constant effort to refine their own signature sound.
At the centre of this and keeping the whole band afloat is John Dwyer. What started as a side-project for Dwyer after moving out to San Francisco; Thee Oh Sees have served as a creative outlet serving up a wide palette of music. Dwyer can be quite easily viewed as an influential character when it comes to music.
After chatting about his most recent album, and listing out some interesting influences on what makes his music sound so vibrant, Dwyer – who now resides in LA – opens up about his time in San Francisco, and we get some pretty straight advice on having to grow older in the music world from someone who has pretty much seen it all when it comes to California and music…
A Weird Exits marks your 17th studio album, prolific comes to mind; how do you maintain the energy and motivation to keep releasing albums year-on-year?
I have no job other than the band and the label with my partner. So this is really what I’ve set out to do. It’s easy to write when you want to write, although I do miss having a nine to five job sometimes, because I did some good writing while fucking off at work.
It’s not a stretch to say you have a pretty established Oh Sees “sound”, what was the main force dictating the direction of the music on this album?
We just write what comes out and try to commit that to tape so it sounds right to us. Obviously when you write a batch of songs in a stretch of time together there can be a heavier vibe or what have you. This session was taken from a year of the band writing together. I guess it’s pretty rhythm based, as have been the records in the past when we’ve used double drummers.
What was it that made you use two drummers?
We had double drummers on Carrion Crawler / The Dream and Putrifiers II and peppered throughout all the previous records. I think it’s just our newer production brought it more to the front. I always loved double drummer bands; The Dead, Butthole Surfers, Adam Ant …
You’re the lead spokesperson in the band, does this mean you’re also the creative force or is it entirely collaborative with the other members?
It varies from song to song and album to album, I am the founder but this record had a lot of collaboration between the band as a whole.
It seems you took the jam appeal of Mutilator Defeated at Last and really focused on that with the new record. Do you work out songs in the studio by jamming and working them out naturally, or do you have a specific way of approaching songwriting?
We wrote this album mostly from jams or a part I would present. When I was young I jammed all the time; getting out of that was a bummer, so I’m stepping up my jam game I missed it… I mean why not?
The final track The Axis does stand out from the rest of the album, it’s more of a slow burner compared to the others – is this more laid back style something you may follow up in the future?
I wrote it after the band left the studio.
I’ve read about your Krautrock influences and in particular your admiration for CAN and Neu!, what is it about those artists that attracts you so much to them?
They are great, what’s not to love!
Even weirder than them, you’ve mentioned Sun Ra in the past, do you think we’ll ever see some weird, jazzed-out influences on your records?
We do a lot of improv but I’ll leave Sun Ra to the Arkestra.
How do you take those sorts of esoteric influences and make it into something so lively and appealing for people?
I grew up with Punk and Metal, I remember which shows were totally impossible to ignore; DRI, Drop Dead, Lightning Bolt. I have always loved a heavy show but with an undercurrent of melody.
Anymore out-there influences or albums that you’ve come across more recently?
Le Orme, muffins, Dugs Dugs, Michael Yonkers, JD Emanuel; the list goes on and on!
What was it that attracted you to San Francisco all those years ago?
The street, the art, the drugs, the women, the music, the food, the beach, the cheap rent…
I read that it was up until you were 35 before you could entirely focus on music without another job, what kind of work were you doing in between writing and playing music?
Bike messenger, house painter, waiter, line cook, co-op grocery store worker, weed dealer, hair braider, professional nanny for the tech-elite…
What was it like trying to stand out in San Francisco and the music scene there?
I never tried to stand out the bay area will always have good music great bands begat great bands.
How does LA compare to San Francisco for you?
It’s bigger and hotter, I own a house with a studio, I have a dog, I love the tacos here too; the beach is farther away but very nice.
Since moving out there you started your own record label, what’s it like running a record label at the same time as playing and releasing music, your life must be pretty hectic a lot of the time?
My partner does all the heavy lifting, Matt Jones, he makes it doable and makes it work. Controlling your own music is something I would never look back from and every band we put out still controls all their rights which is not something most labels do.
How does being in Thee Oh Sees compare to your older bands, is it a more mellow experience being in a band and going on tour for you these days?
Less Drugs, more people. Over the years you grow more professional by accident, I know now not to tell a douche sounding person to fuck off right way, I give them a second chance then I tell them to fuck off! Be nice to people and they will be nice to you is an easy rule these days too.
Words: Tom Willets
Illustrations: Allan Kristiansen